Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Praying means forgiving...

My little reader for the Church Fathers has as today's reading a selection from Origen's treatise On Prayer. As I chewed on his words, a host of issues rose up in my heart even as a host of images rose up in my mind's eye. He is quite clear that before prayer can be efficacious, it must first be intentional with regard to the one who prays as being willing to forgive...and to seek forgiveness. To forgive others and ourselves for sins committed and considered is paramount. But it is also of equal necessity to seek a model of forgiveness from God in order to extend forgiveness to those who choose (and in my experience, choose not) to seek our forgiveness.

I see that set in our Church's pattern in the offices of Daily prayer. Morning, Noon, Evening and Compline all begin with a general confession and petition for absolution for thing we have done...and for those things we have left undone.
People cannot obtain their requests if they do not pray with the requisite dispositions and faith, and if they do not conduct themselves in a fitting manner before praying. It is not a cas of saying a great deal or coming to prayer with a soul filled with resentments.
As I sat down to my personal devotions this morning, I found my 20 minutes with God in prayer continually intruded upon. A catbird was mewing in the Dogwood tree just off the porch where I do my prayers. A street cleaner seemed to be intentionally doing laps around our block. My own thoughts were flitting around stuff going on in the parish, amongst friends and family and of course the global crises that continue to loom around us. I am not being trite in saying that on any given day that I can find my quiet prayers derailed by ruminations on anything from a cricket chirping behind the door to the imminent threat of global warming and the mass extinction of marine life in our oceans. It can all sweep me away quite literally to the point of distraction.

So, as I opened my book to find this passage from Origen waiting for me, I find myself discoursing on prayer that is true and consecrated to God as the first fruits of a discipline of forgiveness and reconciliation. I can't pray until I am able to forgive myself for my tendency to indulge in distraction (and to seek God's forgiveness in turn for my evanesence). I can't pray until I forgive the agent and let be the morning song of that cat bird. I can't pray and derive benefit for myself or the people under my pastoral charge until I can forgive and release the burdens I am carrying as a result of the inevitable conflicts that arise between faithful, passionate people in community-with Christ or otherwise.

This morning, as I sat quietly with my prayer beads waiting on God, I once again experienced first the distraction and then the gift that Origen points us toward as he counsels us to first invest and express forgiveness as we prepare to pray. I couldn't "focus" on God until I was willing to let go of the cat bird's song, the sweeper doing his job and the multitude of "to do" things on my day's list of work issues. Once those moments of forgiveness and reconciliation were named and consecrated to God, attention to God then opened up for me. Real, true quiet was right there-derived from the greater, silent love God is continually showering on us.
First of all, they who dispose themselves to pray in this manner will have great advantage in adopting an attitude of prayer which places them in God's presence and engages them to pray to him as to someone who is present and looking at them. For just as certain mental images and remembrances of things which are recalled encumber the mind which lets itself be inundated by them, so can we believe that it is useful to recall that God is present and know the most secret movements of the soul. Thus, the soul is disposing herself to please him who is present to her, who sees her, and anticipates her every thought, the one who searches hearts and reins.
I look into my self at this point in my life and realize that real prayer has only been in me (and has come from me) when I am willing to forgive, love and live into life in the way that God forgives, loves and lives through me. Jesus, when confronted with seeing the people around him as like sheep without a shepherd, did not hold them in contempt. It was at that moment that he expressed deep love and compassion FOR them.

When we allow love, compassion and forgiveness to flow into us...it inevitably flows out from us.

Call it satori. Call it grace. Whatever you call it, I believe at my core that prayer is authentic when we are willing to break ourselves open, seeking forgiveness and the willingness to forgive. Once that is in hand, then the liturgy is ready to commence.

As my day stretches out before me, I realize that in this life we are both given the opportunity to, and face the responsibility as well to for forgive before, during and after prayer. Once that muscle is built up, then we begin to walk more faithfully in the paths that God has set for us.

What I am also realizing, is that in forgiving we get the chance to REALLY see ourselves as God sees us; and to see the world as God sees it.

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